This was the second hike of my Las Vegas vacation. I had previously done some Class 2 hiking and Class 3 scrambling on the sandstone at Red Rock. Due to the amount of rain the area had been receiving, the sandstone was brittle.
This mountain had been staring me down nearly every second I had been in Vegas. From my vantage point in Henderson (south), it appeared that I could ascend the cone-shaped summit via a couple of ridges, or by a vast sandy plateau on its eastern flank. However, once I viewed it from Las Vegas (west), the mountain took on a whole new personality. It now appeared to be a long, thin mountain, filled with steep gullies that ran from the base of the mountain up to the summit ridge (borrowed photo)
. At the high point of the ridge, there were two radio towers, approximately ¼ mile from each other. I assumed that one of these radio towers was located on the summit proper. After studying the mountain and walking around the northwest base, I decided I’d ascend a gully that ran directly between the radio towers. If the terrain got too steep at the headwall, it appeared that I could traverse to a ridge that ran to the summit. That was assuming that I could even ascend to the headwall on what I assumed would be brittle sandstone. From the summit, I'd descend via the northwest ridge.
I woke up at a respectable hour, ate some breakfast, and drove to the trailhead near the Mormon temple. I noticed that the top 200’ of the mountain was in the clouds. I traversed some easy terrain on a 4x4 road to the base of the gully, at which point the road became severely eroded due to the recent rains. The next ¼ mile was rough, hiking on unstable rocks that had washed down the gully. As the gully began to ascend, the rocks became bigger and more stable. I soon came to a “Y” in the gully, and decided to head to the left. I soon noticed some green arrows on the rocks on the gully walls, and assumed I was on the Pack Trail. Even though the sun was filtered through the clouds, it was warm compared to the Upstate New York winter to which I had become acclimated. As the trail became steeper, the boulders disappeared, and I began scrambling up bedrock. The sturdy rock was comprised of light brown limestone, which was preferable to wet sandstone. Grip was not a problem on this rock, except that there was actually too much friction. Eons of rain had eroded tiny depressions in the limestone, with sharp peaks jutting up between the depressions. Of course, being used to polished Adirondack granite, I never thought of bringing gloves with me.
The gully continued to get steeper, greeting me to spectacular views of Las Vegas. The scrambling so far had been Class II/Class II+. With such good rock under me, I wanted to tackle some exposed Class III scrambling, something I rarely get to do in the northeast. Veering left, I ascended a steep buttress that paralleled the marked path. At the top of the buttress, I approached a layer of overhanging grey rock. I traversed to the right along the marked path, just beneath the overhang. There was a tricky section where some wire was hanging over the edge of the overhang. I highly doubted it was live, but didn’t want to take a chance, and took my time maneuvering around it. Once I had completed the traverse, I could see the radio towers just a couple hundred feet above. I headed towards the southernmost tower, thinking that I’d traverse to the northern summit on my way down the northwestern ridge. As the grade eased, the rock changed from solid bedrock to loose scree.
I soon reached the service road, from where I could see the summit. With a burst of energy, I bounded up the last few feet and was greeted with an amazing view of Las Vegas to the west and Lava Butte and Lake Mead
to the east. The eastern flank dropped abruptly to a sandy plateau 2,000 feet below. Adding to the effect, I was at the exact elevation of the surrounding clouds. The strata of rock were tilted at a 45-degree angle, and it appeared that the entire east flank had slid of as one continuous piece. The tilt of the rock also resulted in a nice knife edge about 5 feet across. One of the rock layers about 3 feet below the ridge edge must be softer than the rock above and below, which resulted in a notch with a nice flat trail on which to walk. Since it appeared to be about 20 feet taller, I headed over the northern summit. A radio tower mechanic was working in the tower shed, and I figured he’d pop out at any moment and be startled by my presence. I couldn’t ascend the summit proper due to a chain link fence topped with razor wire, but figured I made a sufficient effort to appease the summit gods.
From this summit, I could see straight down the mountain, and noticed that it was actually comprised of two ridges. To the west was a shorter, flatter ridge, while the taller eastern ridge continued in a knife edge. Between the two ridges was a shallow valley filled with vegetation… a Shangri-La between the rocky ridges. At that moment, I decided I’d traverse the eastern ridge to the south, enter the shallow valley, and then descend one of the western gullies back to my car. There were some storm clouds building on the horizon, so I figured my time on the summit would be limited.
Though I never felt unsafe, the 5-foot ridge with drop-offs on both sides was exhilarating. The ridges in the East, having been eroded by glaciers, could not compete with the ruggedness and exposure of this ridge. As I continued south, the ridge became rougher and thinner
, until it became a true knife edge
. It was impossible to walk on this edge, so I had to hang off one side to traverse it. Again, the rock was good, and the hand/footholds were true. I was having so much fun on this ridge, that I decided I’d continue along it instead of dropping into the shallow valley. After traversing a section of knife edge with steep drop-offs on either side, I took a rest in a naturally-formed grotto. After eating lunch and replenishing my water bladder, I continued along the ridge. Although the weather was cooperating, I kept a close eye on the storm clouds that still hugged the horizon.
As I descended the ridge, it became flatter and less rugged. I soon reached a shoulder of the ridge, which contained a type of desert alpine meadow of various flowers and cacti
. I was now at the southern end of the ridge, and decided to drop into a gully and head back to the car. There were some signs of former mining activities in the gully, which I inspected closer. However, after 3-4 slips, I decided that the rock was too rotten to continue in the gully and ascended the ridge to my left. I soon learned that the closer I could stay to the top of the ridge, the more stable the rock was.
I was now descending at a quick pace, which was good since the storm clouds that had been staying on the horizon were beginning to creep closer. I kept looking for the RV park where my in-laws were staying, but couldn’t locate it. Being on the southern terminus of the mountain, I couldn’t have been too far away from the park… actually, I was probably closer to the park than my car at this point. I followed the ridge all the way down to the base of the mountain.
Although the topography appeared flat from a distance, the next couple of miles were characterized by constant ups and downs as I descended into and ascended out of numerous dry washes on my way back to the car. There was now a large storm over Las Vegas, so even though I was tired, I refused to rest. I soon reached the car, and headed back to the hotel. I was looking forward to a nice nap, but there was a message from my wife saying that she wanted to meet me at Margaritaville for dinner and then go to “We Will Rock You” at New York New York. I parked at New York New York and began the wife-estimated two blocks (in reality, 2 miles) walk to Margaritaville in the pouring rain. The cold rain made my sore knees stiff, and my noticeable “limp” got a few looks as I walked down the street. I wore it like a badge of honor.
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